Animal, vegetable, miracle

Animal, vegetable, miracle: a year of food life

by Barbara Kingsolver, with Steven L. Hopp and Camille Kingsolver.

Animal, vegetable, miracleIt’s a simple premise for an experiment: what does it look like to spend a year eating food you’ve either produced yourself or sourced locally? The Kingsolver/Hopp family certainly aren’t the only ones who have attempted this in the past few years; the personal eco-food-adventure is becoming a bit of a genre.

Still, if it is a genre, as long as we’re spending more calories shipping food than the food itself contains (and don’t get me started about bottled water), it’s a worthwhile topic and this book is one of its better examples. Kingsolver (and her husband and oldest child, who also contribute) can write well, and she has managed to write about their experiment without the over-earnest tone common to eco-adventurers, recognizing that fifty or sixty years ago her point would have been moot. She has a sense of humour and — critical to the books success, IMO — while she is thoughtful and articulate, she doesn’t take herself too seriously.

They’re realists: they buy coffee and spices from overseas sources and the odd box of KD for one child’s school friends. They eat out sometimes. They plant too much zucchini (well, any zucchini is too much zucchini in my books). They are not vegetarian; they produce some of their own poultry and buy meat from local farmers. They don’t gloss over the amount of pure work involved in weeding and maintaining a garden large enough to feed four people for a year. However, it is, as she writes late in the book, an experiment that turns out to be about eating well instead of being about deprivation: about enjoying the crunch of spring greens and the sweetness of fresh strawberries and eggs straight from the chicken; of appreciating what is in season and of working within those natural limits.

It is also, inevitably, a book about compromise. She recognizes that it’s easy to contemplate growing your own food when you have forty acres in South Virginia, but that we all make choices in our own contexts. The extensive sidebars, references, and links give people ways to find out more should the urge strike.

Nicely done. Not so much a book to read at breakfast while munching raspberries from California and blueberries from New Jersey, though. At least my yogurt was organic and my honey was local!